COLLEGE PARK -- Let's play a game of "What if?".
What if you're playing the No. 1 team in the country and you somehow manage to keep their best player, an All-American, no less, from touching the basketball for five solid minutes?
"I figure we would be up by 10 or 15 points," said Maryland forward Vince Broadnax.
Wrong answer. In fact, the result was quite the opposite for Maryland.
The Terps kept Duke's 6-foot-11 all-everything senior center Christian Laettner away from the ball for five minutes of last night's game.
Rather than folding their tents, the top-ranked Blue Devils simply struck gold on the perimeter, crushing the reeling Terps, 83-66.
Before the first television timeout was called, Duke (9-0, 3-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) had jumpers from senior Brian Davis and junior Thomas Hill and a three-pointer from junior point guard Bobby Hurley and an 11-4 lead.
So, the Terps came out of their sagging zone, and Laettner busted a turnaround jumper the first time he touched the ball, and one foul shot the next time and a layup from Grant Hill.
That makes the score 16-4 Duke and that also pretty much wraps up the ballgame.
"At the start of the game, we gambled a little bit and they made some outside shots," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "We did not cover well in the zone that we started in, but they still had to put the shots down and they did."
"Duke's not a one-man team. They have other great players," said Maryland forward Garfield Smith. "If you stop one man, you still have four more guys to stop."
Those four guys in general -- and Thomas Hill, who had 25 points and eight rebounds, in particular -- did pretty well on both ends of the floor.
When the Blue Devils weren't running, they were executing well in the halfcourt offense.
Laettner, who had 13 points, seven below his season's average, was constantly double-teamed, but was content to throw the ball out to the open man on the perimeter, often for three-pointers, of which Duke hit eight of 12.
"The toughest thing about them is that if you double-down on Laettner, they have so many guys that can hurt you outside," said guard Kevin McLinton. "They have it all. They're a great inside-outside team."
About the only area in which Duke fell off the mark was at the free throw line, where it made 17 of 32 attempts. But considering that Maryland (7-5, 0-2) only took 17 foul shots itself, it stands to reason that the Blue Devils did what they wanted on offense.
Defensively, Duke used its patented clutching, grabbing, pawing, clawing, but ultimately stifling defense to force 24 Maryland turnovers, including a whopping 11 by point guard Walt Williams and to hold the Terps to a paltry 40 percent field-goal percentage.
"We just said, 'We gotta go,' " said Davis. "We had to play well for 40 minutes."
"This was a really great effort by us tonight," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. "It takes a number of persons doing a really good job to beat Maryland at home."
Still, the Terps had their moments. After withstanding the initial early blast, Maryland got to within 10 with 3:58 left in the first half, as the backcourt of Williams (25 points) and McLinton (19 points) got untracked.
But off the television timeout, Hurley drilled a three-pointer, Laettner hit two foul shots and Thomas Hill got a putback, and the lead was back to 13 at halftime.
The Blue Devils opened the second stanza with a back-breaking 10-0 run on three-pointers from Laettner and Thomas Hill and lay-ins from Thomas and Grant Hill.
"We have really had a problem this year of not playing well in the first few minutes of the second half," said Gary Williams. "That cost us again tonight, no doubt about it.
"The thing with playing a team of Duke's level is that if you do make a mistake, they usually capitalize on it. That is the sign of a good team and they certainly have a lot of ways to come at you."
"We're just not playing consistently enough," said center Evers Burns, who had a season-low six points. "We're playing in spurts and you can't win playing in spurts."
The current spurt the Terps are on has seen them drop four in a row and five of seven, since they started the season with five straight wins.
With a weekend road trip to North Carolina State and North Carolina facing them, perhaps the more appropriate question for the Terps is not "What if?" but "What next?"